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Hair review at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester – ‘a natural high’

The cast of Hair at the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester. Photos: Anthony Robling

In Hair, one of the principal characters, Claude Bukowski, is greatly enamoured of “Manchester, England, England/ Across the Atlantic Sea”, and completes the thought by singing: “And I’m a genius, genius/ I believe in God/ And I believe that God/ Believes in Claude.”

Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter can rest easy with their lyrical crowns unthreatened, but there’s still a lovely innocence to those words, and its particularly warming to hear them being sung in Manchester, England, England itself, where the nascent but already fast-growing Hope Mill Theatre is staging an alternately smart and bracing revival.

On the one hand, so many of composer Galt MacDermot’s melodies are now so familiar that it feels a bit like Jersey Boys does, with the bonus of a famous nude scene to end the first act. But on the other, this is also a show that captures the essence of its late-1960s counter-cultural moment, when hippies gathered together in ‘tribes’ of like-minded people of protest, particularly against the Vietnam War, for which one of this group’s number – the aforementioned Claude – has been conscripted to serve in the army to fight.

That helps the show maintain something of a dramatic spine, though it has to be said that the book is not always entirely coherent, seemingly written in a bit of a drug haze: “Golden living dreams of visions/ Mystic crystal revelation/ And the mind’s true liberation”, goes another lyric, in a show that celebrates getting high and getting laid.

But the show itself is a natural high, and Jonathan O’Boyle’s production left me walking on air. That’s partly thanks to the thrilling musical values of a cast of great voices – stand-outs include Robert Metson’s handsome Claude, Laura Johnson’s Sheila and Shekinah McFarlane’s Dionne – and the band led by Gareth Bretherton, but also the effortlessly natural movement of choreographer William Whelton, co-founder of the venue.

Hallucinatory musical that offers a legal high in this terrific revival

Production Information

Hope Mill Theatre
November 12, 2016
December 3, 2016
Press night
November 16, 2016
Gerome Ragni, James Rado
Galt MacDermot
Gerome Ragni, James Radd
Jonathan O'Boyle
Musical director
Gareth Bretherton
William Whelton
Maeve Black
James Bawn
Christopher Bogg, Max Perryment
Maeve Black
Stage manager
Sarah Greenwood
Production manager
Lucy Price
Cast includes
Ryan Anderson, Robert Metson, Liam Ross-Mills, Laura Johnson, Chloe Carrington, Shekinah McFarlane
Benjamin Newsome
Katy Lipson, Aria Entertainment, Joseph Houston, William Whelton, Hope Mill Theatre
Running time
2hrs 30mins